The classic definition of project management provided by the Project Management Institute is “the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.” While this is essentially true, there is another piece of the project management puzzle that experienced project managers know all-to-well, and new project managers quickly discover: there is a great deal (read: an excessive and exhausting) amount of administration. That is the bad news. The good news is work automation holds the promise to alleviate a significant amount of the administrative burden, and help more projects reach the finish line on time, within budget, and having completed all business objectives.
What is Work Automation?
In essence, work automation involves applying technologies, programs, processes and robotics, in order to achieve desired outcomes with minimal — or in some cases no — human input. In the context of project management, the goal of work automation is not to make project managers (and other team members) obsolete. Rather, it is to liberate them from the above-noted administrative burden, so they can focus on high-value tasks and priorities.
About Work Automation Software
There are many ways that work automation tools support project management success — which is no small undertaking, considering that McKinsey & Company studied over 5000 large-scale projects and found that 56% delivered less value than expected, 45% went over budget, and 17% were so catastrophic that they threatened the organization’s very survival.
Here some of the key benefits of work automation when it is driven by a robust project management software solution:
- Capture key project data in real-time and send it to the right individuals/groups.
- Ensure that all team members complete and submit timesheets (more on this below).
- Execute workflow rules, custom actions and custom fields.
- Report project status and manage budgets.
- Improve resource management and recruitment.
- Identify, monitor and manage risks.
- Automatically populate a new project plan with template-based tasks, milestones, deliverables and interdependencies.
- Trigger compliance reviews when certain conditions are met.
Work Automation Tools and Timesheet Reporting
Project managers disagree on many things, and engage in spirited debates on everything from the merits of Agile project management, to whether Gantt charts are an asset or a liability on complex projects (pro tip: they are an asset, provided that they are interactive and can be shared with all internal/external stakeholders as necessary, regardless of their physical location).
However, there is one thing that virtually all project managers readily agree on: they dread reminding team members over, and over, and over again complete and submit timesheets. We will not go into the grizzly details, but the phrase “herding cats” comes to mind.
To be fair, most team members are not trying to cause problems. Rather, they are uninterested and unwilling to prepare and submit timesheets on a regular basis because they must:
- Stop what they are doing.
- Launch spreadsheets or a timesheet app.
- Hunt for the appropriate tasks, milestones or projects.
- Manually log their time and activity details — which can and often does lead to human error.
And so, where does work automation software fit into this scenario and rescue everyone? By equipping team members with an autonomous program that interacts with systems or users — better known as a bot — that integrates with their channel-based messaging platform (e.g. Slack, Teams, etc.).
As a result of the integration, team members simply input basic commands like “log 1 hour on project planning.” Once the command is received, the bot springs into action, identifies the appropriate project, and submits all relevant timesheet data. There is no disruption to focus or momentum, there is no risk of human input error, and project managers avoid the drudgery of chasing down stragglers. Everyone wins — and it is all thanks to work automation!
Work Automation Ideas and Skills Development
Work automation is also accelerating the demand for project managers (and other professionals) who have strong social and emotional skills, to go alongside advanced cognitive and technical abilities. As noted by McKinsey and Company: “Accompanying the adoption of advanced technologies into the workplace will be an increase in the need for workers with finely tuned social and emotional skills—skills that machines are a long way from mastering…While some of these skills, such as empathy, are innate, others, such as advanced communication, can be honed and taught.”
The Bottom Line on Automation and Work
In project management — and on the broader business landscape as well — there is a lot to like about work automation. When it is developed and deployed effectively, and driven by a robust project management solution, it can dramatically improve both processes and results. This means healthier projects, more productive teams, more satisfied customers, and more profitable enterprises.